06 Ramadan 1444 - 28 March 2023
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Eye of Riyadh
Healthcare | Saturday 8 October, 2022 2:14 pm |

The not-so-sweet side of sugar

Aptly dubbed ‘the silent killer’, the health hazards of sugar are not silent anymore. 

the Love-hate relationship with sugar is a long standing one in human history: the taste buds love it, but the body hates it. 

Sugars can be divided into two types: naturally found sugar and added sugar.

Naturally occurring sugars are also known as simple sugars, and are found naturally in foods such as milk and fruits (lactose and fructose respectively).

Added sugars are classified as sugars or sweeteners which are added to the food during its processing or preparation stage, like adding sugar while making a dessert or adding sugar to your coffee.  Added sugars can include natural sugars such as honey, white sugar etc., as well as other nutritive sweeteners that are artificially manufactured (such as corn syrup). 

The problem lies in added sugars

As per Nature, the consumption of sugar has tripled globally since the past 50 years. The human body is designed in a way to fulfill its sugar requirement through natural sugars. Added sugars provide no nutritional value and are harmful in large quantities. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults and children should reduce their intake of sugar to less than 10% of their total daily energy intake. This translates to almost 12 teaspoons of sugar for an adult each day i.e. 50 grams. 

Health hazards due to excess sugar consumption

Excess consumption of sugar is the major underlying cause of many health issues, ranging from fatigue to cardiovascular issues.

Sugar is the major reason behind the rise of obesity and diabetes around the world. Drinks like sugary sodas, artificially sweetened juices and teas contain fructose. Fructose has the characteristics to increase your appetite and hunger beyond regular limits, thus leading people to overeat and reach the satiation levels much later, thus leading to obesity. 

Rising sugar consumption has also opened up the risk to cardiovascular diseases. Sugar is linked to the increase in blood pressure, thus affecting the normal functioning of the heart. Constant high blood pressure gives way to chronic inflammation, and all these factors together increase the risk of heart attack.

How added sugars are disguised

The primary sources of added sugars are sweetened drinks, sugar candies, processed and baked food. 

However, the carriers of added sugar are not just hidden in the sweet food. Even non-sweet food like tomato ketchups, processed food like breads, marinara sauces, packaged salad dressings contain high amounts of added sugars, thus disguising the apparent sources of added sugar.

Additionally, added sugars are not always listed with the keyword ‘sugar’, or is portrayed by other names which do not necessarily point towards sugar, such as agave nectar, sucrose, sugarcane syrup and many more.

Below listed are few examples of how sugar are listed in different ways on nutritional labels:

  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sugars ending in “ose”
  • Syrup

Rising problem in MENA region

A study by an UK insurance provider Protectivity, published in May 2018, stated that an average UAE resident consumes approximately 103 litres of soft drink in a year. This data was based on the repository derived from the 2017-18 human consumption data from the US Department of Agriculture.

The study published by Protectivity also brings forth another serious revelation: UAE is the world’s largest consumer of sugar, with an average consumer using almost 214 kgs of sugar every year. This prompted the Ministry of UAE to introduce a 50% excise tax on any products to which sugar or sweeteners have been added, be it a beverage, a powder, a concentrate, an extract or other substances or liquids from which a beverage can be made. (Cabinet Decision no. 52 of 2019).

Commenting on the hazards of excessive sugar consumption, an EFKO’ s Chief Development Officer, Mr. Raymund Scheffler said,” It is high time that people wake up to the serious health concerns that stem from the seemingly harmless habit of consuming sugar. The rise of added sugar usage has given way to lifestyle diseases, thus silently affecting the health of an individual. We must aim on reducing, if not eliminating, the quantity of sugar we consume regularly.”


Tips on reducing sugar intake

Although it is difficult to eliminate sugar from our diets completely, it is advisable to cut down on the intake, and watch out for added sugars. Reducing consumption of processed foods brings down the total intake of added sugars drastically.

Following are some tips you can follow to watch out for the consumption of added sugars:

  • Cut out the consumption of aerated drinks, sweetened and sugary drink and opt for organically flavored water instead.
  • Flavored yogurts contain a harmful amount of added sugars. Choose plain yogurt over flavored ones for regular intake.
  • Opt for whole fruits instead of juices and smoothies. Juices eliminate the fiber content of the fruits which is essential for our nutritional value. Fiber is also essential for satiation, which helps you feel full for longer, thus reducing the risk of over-eating.
  • Snacking should be monitored carefully, as majority of the pre-package snacks are full of processed sugars. Replace your pre-packaged snacks with nuts, dried fruits, trail mix of nutritional seeds for healthier snacking.
  • Avoid sweet salad dressings on a regular basis.
  • Buy sauces and ketchups by carefully reading their nutrition label and opting for zero sugar.
  • Prefer buying fresh produce and home cooked meals instead of processed and pre-packaged foods.


A Ray of Hope

Companies and scientists have been hunting for alternatives to sugar since a while, due to the rising demand for reduction in use of sugar and avoiding artificial constituents. Major multinational companies like Coca Cola had even offered a cash prize for anyone who comes up with a credible sugar alternative, which mimics not only its taste, but also its structural properties which is crucial during cooking and baking.

Commenting on the quest to find a sugar alternative, EFKO’ s Chief Development Officer, Mr. Raymund Scheffler says, “People are waking up to the ill-effects of continued sugar consumption and are keen to make a dietary shift. Hence, major companies and scientists are dedicated to finding a suitable alternative to sugar, aiming on maintaining the sweetness but reducing the side-effects of excessive sugar consumption. In the coming future, we might witness revolutionary alternatives to sugar, thus conserving our health and our environment. The story has just begun.”

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